Peter J. Carroll
Occult revivals occur when the social, economic or intellectual status quo is disturbed by the unexpected. Affluence combined with the collapse of the Roman state religion caused one revival. The rediscovery of classical knowledge in the Renaissance brought about another. Dissatisfaction with catholic hellfire christianity spawed spiritualism, theosophy, the Golden Dawn and Crowley. In our own time anti-semitism, affluence, drugs and oriental ideas spawned another outburst.
Occult revivals are stimulated by economics and by the availability, rather than the creation of ideas. Roman culture was subject to a huge influx of ideas, cults and philosophies from conquered peoples. Written material surviving from this synthesis appeared again as hermetics in the Renaissance. The revivals of the late nineteenth century and the nineteen-sixties owe much to the availability of scientific ideas and oriental philosophies. It is probably more useful then, to look for impending changes in the general situation rather than within the occult itself if we want to second guess the next revival. The period between one revival and the next is shortening rapidly and we are probably due for another around the turn of the century, give or take a decade. I`d like to try and identify some of the factors which may help shape it.
Firstly the millenium. Christianity is unfortunately not yet completely extinguished and humanity will have to cope with a rising tide of apocalypse mania as the calendrical millenium draws closer. Right wing christian fundamentalists in America may even be in a political position to inaugerate a real Armageddon by then. I hope that whatever courage and imagination there is in the occult is put to good use in undermining this sort od idiocy. Those occultists who do jump on the millenial bandwagon have only disaster or ridicule to look forward to.
Economics has a powerfull effect on the ocult climate. A fairly rapid increase in affluence will often provoke a revival as leisure time becomes available and some minds turn to higher things. Conversely, a decline in living conditions will sometimes make people seek what they have lost, or a substitute, by occult means. Boom propelled revivals are usually much more fun than slump propelled upsurges. In this country, any increment in occultism arising from socio-economic desperation, is likely to be some species of neo-nazi mystic nationalism. As with millenium madness, the greater honour will, in the long run, go to those occultists who oppose such nonsense. However, the metaphysical fallout from the sixties may yet carry us through to the next boom revival and these problems may not yet arise.
It seems unlikely that anthropology or archaeology will be able to make fresh ideas available for cannibalisation by the occult in the next revival. Computerised libraries, satellite photography and global communication systems leave few stones unturned. There seems little chance lost ancient manuscripts, magical tribes or forgotten occult civilisations coming to light nowadays. So it is to science itself that I think we should turn for fresh ammunition.
There are already discernable strains of space mysticism in some quarters of the occult. Questions about the reality or otherwise of supposed visits by aliens should not distract us from recognising that UFO-mania itself is a mystico-religous phenomena. The UFO-ologist wants to personally receive wisdom for the whole of humanity from some superhuman being. Seeking angels in space suits is to repeat humanity`s perennial mistake, pretending to look outside for what is really inside ourselves.
Quantum physics has been quietly undermining the whole basis of mechanistic cause and effect type science for nearly sixty years. It has been said that if you are not shocked by the implications of quantum physics then you have not understood it. This may be perfectly true for the scientist but for the magician, quantum physics provides elegant confirmation of many of his theories. A quantitative approach to quantum physics is beyond all but the best mathematician. Many of the principles are enshrined in equations for which we have few verbal or visual analogies. Because of this very few laymen or philosophers have been able to appreciate what has been going on.
Briefly in qualitative terms, we now have hard experimental evidence which strongly implies that physical process are, at root, acausal; they just happen out of themselves and that consciousness, or at least the decisions of the observer, can modify or control what happens. Secondly it would seem that pure information can travel anywhere instantaneously and perhaps persists indefinitely, providing there is some sort of affinity, or magical link as we would call it, between that which emits and that which receives. Very few liberties need to be taken with quantum physics to fit in virtually the whole of parapsychology. It remains to be seen if quantum physics can be presented in sufficiently accessible form to provoke another occult revival.
A quantum based revival would effectively demolish the spirit hypothesis. A "spirit" would have to be recognised as nothing more than the information that a phenomeenon emitted about itself when it existed physically. Anything else would have to be put down to the creativity of the observer`s subconsciousness. Thus the "tree-ness" of a tree or the quality of a thought is just an extension of the object itself on the plane of non-local information. If you talk to Egyptian gods your subconsciousness is, at best, simply animating the general personality characteristics of the gods projected by their worshippers millenia ago. Spirits cannot be gaseous vertebrates with powers of independent discoursive thought. On the practical level quantum physics implies that the medium of magic is not some sort of nebulous psychic energy or force, it is simply a transfer of information. Magical healing or attack is accomplished by long range telepathic suggestion not by astral bandages or thunderbolts. The quantum paradigme forces a re-examination of reincarnation. There is no reason why anybody should not be able to tap the memories of any historical person. Conversely we can all look forward to fragments of our ideas and personalities manifesting in other people in the future.
Telekinesis and related phenomena can be accommodated within the quantum paradigma if we allow intent to expand upon the small degree of fundamental uncertainty, or more properly indeterminacy, in the position and momentum of any object. Prophecy is always the most doubtful of the magical arts although short term prediction or precognition can often be impressive. The quantum model allows for this providing the operator later observes the precognised event. Such apparent nonsense as astrology and homeopathy begin to make more sense in a quantum paradigm which suggests that expectation can have real effects via what one might call a magical level. This is quite over and above the purely psychological effects of expectation that materialists usually invoke to explain away these things. I`ve heard the quantum occult paradigm described as Big Bang Mysticism and Electro Gnosis. I rather like this, for it implies that the universe is being viewed as a self-created magical organism and that magic itself is a technology we can potentially master because it is a part of the nature of ordinary reality. Of course, what is missing in this scheme are the pseudo certainities of belief in gods and higher powers or even a benign cosmic mind. It throws us back on our own powers and ingenuities, but isn`t this what the best occultism has always been about anyway?